stocks

Welcome to the $1,000 Stock Club

Just because shares trade for four figures doesn't mean they're pricey. Take Google and Priceline, for example.

Membership in the $1,000 club has doubled. Stocks that trade for four digits or more per share now include Priceline.com (symbol PCLN) and Google (GOOG). They join longtime members Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A) and Seaboard (SEB), a little-known agribusiness and shipping company.

Trading above $1,000 doesn't necessarily make any of them expensive, however. To a great extent, those prices are a result of the companies' refusal to split the shares. On a price-earnings basis, none of the stocks is terribly out of line with the market as a whole. And the two new members could even be considered cheap, given their growth prospects.

Google may make headlines for things such as its Google Glass eyewear, but its search-engine business, the main driver of growth, is on a roll. The third quarter of 2013 marked the 15th-straight quarter that Google's core business posted year-over-year sales gains of at least 20%. Analyst Mark Mahaney, of RBC Capital Markets, sees more strong growth ahead. That's because though the company gets some 70% of global ad-search revenue, less than 20% of global advertising dollars are spent on the Internet, he says.

Although Google shares jumped 51% over the past year, they're not unreasonably priced. At $1,007, they trade for 20 times estimated year-ahead earnings (all prices and returns are as of November 7). Mahaney says that in his best-case scenario — the global economy grows faster than expected, Google's YouTube site continues to thrive, and the company trims losses in its Motorola phone unit — the stock could hit $1,300 within a year.

Priceline's stock surged 61% over the past year, to $1,023. Like Google, Priceline has posted 15 straight quarters of 20%-plus revenue gains (through the second quarter of 2013). At home, the online travel company is best known for a "name your own price" feature and goofy advertising starring actor William Shatner. Outside the U.S., the company uses a more traditional pricing model, making more online hotel reservations than any other company in the world. More than half of Priceline's sales are international, with the bulk in Europe.

Although Priceline's growth will slow eventually, analysts still see heady earnings gains of 20% annually over the next few years. Analyst Tom White, of Macquarie Capital, calls Priceline a "top pick" in the online travel sector because of its consistent performance, opportunities in emerging markets and reasonable share price of 22 times estimated profits for the next four quarters.

Berkshire Hathaway, the vehicle for Warren Buffett, has never split its primary shares, which sell for $171,090. (The firm's Class B shares trade at a much more accessible price of $114.) Both have risen about one-third in the past year, as Berkshire's stable of businesses has recovered along with the U.S. economy. Morningstar analyst Greggory Warren believes the stock's current "fair value" is 20% higher.

Seaboard, at $2,700, is the smallest member of the four-figure club, with a market value of $3.3 billion. The Shawnee Mission, Kan., firm gets its $6.2 billion in annual sales from commodities trading, pork production, a container-shipping business (which gives the company its name) and even a power plant in the Dominican Republic.

The stock, which isn't followed by any brokerage analysts, trades at 12 times the past year's earnings. That's not expensive. But although sales have roughly doubled since 2007, earnings have been erratic. One fan is Gregory Roeder, co-manager of the Adirondack Small Cap Fund: "When you look at the cash flows, its very durable balance sheet and how the company has grown pretty nicely over the years, it made sense for us."

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